|President George W. Bush visits an Islamic center on September 16, 2001|
[Taking a different tone after my previous two letters - here and here - I point out an opportunity for actual moral leadership in the midst of the mess. Because optimism.]
Congratulations on assuming the Chair of the Republican Governors Association. It is a position of some prominence and must be an opportunity to do some good, not just - as is typically reported - a stepping stone to a national stage and a body for doing partisan political work. Although it is also that.
It is a leadership position within the political party and an opportunity to walk back some of the frankly crazy talk we have had just before Thanksgiving, much of it (though certainly not all of it) from governors, on the topic of Syrian refugees, terrorism, and muslims.
1.) If you will continue to object to the United States commitment to accepting a modest number of Syrian refugees, it is important for you to cite specific problems or questions about the process. The process, as we know, is quite extensive - it is indeed the most difficult way to gain admission to the United States. Which is why the refugee process has not been a gateway for terrorists. Knowing the facts on the long vetting process, and that it is continuously reviewed and improved, governors need either to raise specific factual questions about the process. Simply claiming a process does not exist is incorrect and irresponsible.
2.) Governors need to remember the week of September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush visited an Islamic center and made a brief, cogent address in the company of muslim leaders clearly distinguishing terrorists from the body of citizens - anywhere from five to twelve million in the United States. It is profoundly unreasonable and unjust to insist that Islam is typified by a few criminals (who are regularly denounced by muslim leaders and clerics as well as the body faithful) and not the millions of muslims who are ordinary citizens of our communities.
3.) Neither is it reasonable to hold that people fleeing the civil war in Syria are sympathetic to the cause of Da-esh (aka ISIL or ISIS). The heightened fear of Syrian refugees is an overreaction to the events in Beirut, Paris, and Bamako, and the downing of a passenger plane over Egypt. Syrians were not involved in these attacks. This is as strange as blaming the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Korea rather than Japan.
Once we stop blaming the innocent for the actual terrorist activity that has taken place, we need leaders like yourself to help the country walk back from the fascistic rhetoric that has presented itself over the past week. Here is a brief review of the horrors:
- · A mayor in the state of Virginia recalled with approval theinternment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, one of the most shameful chapters of our history.
- · A state legislator from Rhode Island suggested putting Syrian refugees into concentration camps.
- · A front-running presidential candidate expressed interest in a national registry of muslims in the United States.
- · Two prominent candidates for president suggested implementing an illegal religious test for political refugees.
- · A prominent state legislator from Tennessee called for the National Guard to be deployed to move Syrian refugees already located here to INS facilities for confinement or deportation.
[NOTE FOR BLOG: I didn't even remember to mention the calls by leading presidential candidates to shut down mosques or businesses where muslims might gather and inspire radicals. The letter continues...]
These sentiments have been uttered by elected officials from both major parties. It is a frightening moment, and a time when we must be reminded of our broad values regarding justice, liberty, and human life; to say nothing of the rule of law.
You now have an opportunity to lead as a voice of reason and justice, to help us walk back from this rhetorical abyss. The elected officers who have said these things have not had to step own for taking this abhorrent positions. The result is that our country seems no longer a safe place for citizens or visitors who are muslim. We cannot allow that to stand.
If you took a leadership role in restoring balance and wisdom to this crisis, it would reflect well on you on a national stage, on your party, and on our state.